Ever step into a yoga class and think, “this is not the right class,” five minutes into chanting a love hymn of Ganesha? I have. Like, just this Sunday. Fortunately, the class soon became more dynamic with lots of Sun Salutations (my favorite!), but I did miss doing ujjai breathing. Lesson: Find out the right yoga style for you before you commit to a class card. With such a range of activity level, benefits, and ambiance, you should be able to find one that’s just right for you, whether it’s getting some cardio, strengthening your digestive and immune systems, or getting in touch with your spirituality.
1. Hatha – this is the foundation of all yoga styles, based on Asanas (postures), Pranayama (regulated breathing), meditation (Dharana & Dhyana) and kundalini (Laya Yoga). Expect lots of guided breathing, chanting, and meditation.
Best for: Beginners; soon-to-be moms or new moms; people who are seeking to de-stress
2. Vinyasa -a very dynamic practice focusing on the coordination of breath and movement. The class might start with a five minute breathing and chanting, then quickly move on to repeated Sun Salutation sequences (Surya Namaskara), lunges (Warrior poses), balancing stances and back bends.
Best for: All-over stretching; upper body conditioning; flexibility and balance
3. Bikram – Bikram is the most well-known “hot yoga” practice. Classes are held at 95-105 degrees F, which promotes more flexibility, detoxification, and prevention of injuries. Every class follows the same sequence of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, and it notably does not include any Sun Salutations. Devotees–and instructors–swear that you can burn up to 900 calories in one 90 minute class. But do be aware of controversy surrounding the founder, Bikram Choudhury, who has been accused of demanding sex from female followers, and reportedly owns 40 Rolls Royces. After reading up on these scandals (here and here), I have not returned to my former studio to contribute to his wealth. If you miss the heat, try to find other, non-trademarked versions of hot yoga offered at studios in your town.
Best for: Intense detox; reducing water weight; digestion and immune system; intermediate to advanced practitioners
4. Power yoga – With pop music and energy of aerobics class, this is the most obviously Westernized incarnation of yoga. The poses resemble basic calisthenics — push-ups and handstands, toe touches and side bends — and like in Vinyasa, each pose flows directly into the next, for the most cardio benefits.
Best for: Cardio and conditioning; people who don’t feel comfortable with more “hippie” aspects like incense or chanting in Sanskrit
5. Ashtanga – founded by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga is another dynamic, physically demanding form that synchronizes breathing with postures. Traditionally, ashtanga is taught through mysore–a style of teaching where the instructor guides the student one-on-one, instead of leading the class together. It is possible, however, that your local studio offers non-mysore classes. In all ashtanga classes, you can expect ujjayi breathing (a deeper form of breathing with an open throat and closed mouth), Sun Salutations, inversions, balancing poses, and back bends.
Best for: All over conditioning; flexibility, posture, and balance; intermediate to advanced practitioners
6. Iyengar – developed by guru B.K.S. Iyengar, this is another gentler option like Hatha yoga. The poses are generally held longer than in other styles of yoga, and transitions also happen more slowly since the focus is on alignment, rather than movement. Equipment like cushions, blankets, straps, and blocks are also characteristic of Iyengar, allowing people of all fitness levels to participate.
Best for: People recovering from injury; seniors; beginners to intermediate practitioners
7. Kundalini – “Kundalini” means “corporeal power” in Sanskrit. This practice is largely founded on Hatha yoga and emphasizes the awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward. Through asanas, breathing and meditation, kundalini yoga seeks to raise the energy through the 7 chakras of the body.
Best for: Relaxation and sense of well-being; People who are interested in spirituality and self-discovery
Also in Fitness: Why Fall is the Best Season to Get Fit